The gift and the truth

Charles Eisenstein recently, like so many times before, mentioned that he received his life as a gift: It wasn’t for his effort that he came into this world, it wasn’t for his effort that his mother nursed him, it wasn’t for his effort that there are drinkable water and breathable air to support his ongoing existence. In other words, our lives are not earned by anything we do; we just receive them. The natural response to it is gratitude and the wish to give in turn.

The meaning of that insight, for activism, it struck me, suggests that it is not in our hands. by performing any specific actions or set of actions, whether we get granted a better life, another day, another month, another year in this world. Every day is a new gift, every experience is another gift. To be an activist, in this sense, means to live in the gift, to give and be given. To be an activist is to act in accordance with the highest truth you know – heedless of any specific outcome. It may include that you stand for the truth you feel even if it is likely to kill you – not that you seek it out, but you are ready for it because you know that declining to live from another place than truth sometimes draws spiteful attention of those who would break you for their “cause”.

People today usually call that stubbornness or even extremism, but what it actually is about is radical sincerity, coherence, or love of what-is. They call it extreme because insincerity, cognitive dissonance, utilitarianism, lack of identity and a whole range of other such conditions have become so commonplace as to count as normal. But it’s not who we are. It’s not the human condition to be that way, they are just reflective of civilization, the culture of the trauma. This culture and its adherents are refusing their gifts in the same way they are refusing what’s real.

Jesus was no D.Theol: On the Cult of the Expert (1)

Immanuel Kant ca1790

In my blog Another Nuremberg I noted that I‘m through with people – well, to the degree that a social being can actually divorce itself from its people. It goes so far and no more. That‘s sad enough, and silly enough, too, but that‘s my sentiment in these times. As times are changing, so is the sentiment.

Same goes for science. I‘m through with it, to the degree that a living intelligent curious being can actually divorce itself from its own perception. Because when I say, ‘I’m through with science’, I don‘t mean to say that I‘ll no longer curiously follow the behaviour of the wild beings around me, or that the night sky holds no longer any fascination to me, or that peculiar views picked up from other people and the media no longer rouse my interest. When I say that I‘m through with science I mean, I’ve had enough of the institution of science – academia – and its pointless finds that my grandma knew without spending millions of bucks on reports, or which have no connection to my life whatsoever. I’m through, even more, with scientism – the folk religion of “science says”, “the experts told”, “it’s written in a book”, and “I’ve got a PhD, what have you got?”

I’m through with people because they are civilized to the point of utter craziness, and I’m through with science as the arrogant expression of that craziness, the point where people use the factoids picked up from some kind of medium for the purpose of forcing others into submission, i.e. the point they are no longer curious and open.

David Cayley, in his new book, Ivan Illich – an Intellectual Journey (Penn State University Pr., 2021), describes some of the adverse effects of the dominant contemporary view of science as follows:

“Political discussion,” Illich says, „is stunned by a delusion about science.” Science has become „a spectral production agency” whose output is certified knowledge. One accepts it because of the overwhelming authority this certification confers and because not to accept it is to risk the status of heretic. In courts of law, to take one of Illich’s examples, evidence that our legal tradition would formerly have excluded or bracketed as „hearsay” becomes decisive when delivered by a scientific expert. Decisions that belong in the realm of common sense and practical judgment are instead settled by expert opinion: Is the nuclear power plant „safe”? Do studies on parent—child „attachment” authorize early day care? Which diet will produce the biggest payoff in life expectancy? and so on. This „stuns” political discussion in two ways, according to Illich. The first is that science as a process of inquiry is mystified. Gone are the adventures and vicissitudes of trying to stabilize a „fact” along with the very provisional character of this stabilization once achieved. In their place is a monolith: the oracular „Science says . . . ” or „Studies show . . . ” There’s nothing to discuss. „Scientific” findings that amount to little more than gossip when de-contextualized and stepped down into everyday talk pass from hand to hand, still trailing the aura of the laboratory. The second result, Illich says, is that „people . . . cease to trust their own judgment.” A choice for conviviality requires „a political community [which] choose[s] the dimensions of the roof under which its members will live,” but such a community can only be composed of citizens who believe they have the right, the capacity, and the power to make such a choice.

Science is…

Science is not knowledge as such. Science is the process of getting to understand how the world works, Science is the fruit of curiosity, and curiosity is the fruit of openness. So long as the gathered knowledge makes sense within the framework of one culture‘s understanding, science is weaving the tapestry of that culture‘s cosmology and worldview. This is the way our culture creates its myths. The word ‚myths‘ does not mean ‚fiction‘ or ‚fairy tales‘, but is another word for the stories that help us make sense of the universe and our place within it. Different peoples have different stories; none of them is more true than another, but each of them makes perfect sense to their respective people within their cocoon of habitat, culture, thought patterns, language, and perception.

In a truly free and participatory group of people every individual helps creating the people‘s myths, and most interestingly the resulting stories seem to last longer the less physical technology people apply in their daily lives – often many hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. At the same time, ‚scientific revolutions‘ succeed each other within decades, rendering previous scientific ‚knowledge‘ outdated or even wrong. It is not so hard to see that our current set of scientific views is really only con-temporary as well. The idea that ‚sicknesses‘ get ‚caused‘ by ‚germs‘ and that ‚healing‘ comes about through killing those germs, for instance, will be among the next certainties going down the drain of time. Ivan Illich (Limits to Medicine; see my blog post, “Medical Nemesis: compulsory survival in a planned and engineered Hell”) has traced some of the historical stages that led to our current understanding of ‘health’, warning of the consequences of continued pursuit of that path. Charles Eisenstein, in his book The Ascent of Humanity (see my blog post “What’s your story?“) described a number of fields waiting for the right moment to make the shift to a new kind of science.

What interests me most about the matter is not so much, What will the future science be based upon?, What kind of knowledge will it reveal?, or, Which new technologies will result from a new science? These are rather idle questions, I think, nice for a discussion with friends on a long night of mental yarn-weaving. The more pressing question, to me, is about how to live a simple life today in a society of expert-groupies, a life freed from tech gurus, unnecessary complications and twisted crypticized language; a life lived within my own power to perceive, discern, process, define, and enact the knowledge I need, so that the world makes sense to me, and so that my existence has meaning.

Sapere Aude!

The place of choice to start this challenge, obviously, is courage – the audacity to inquire for oneself, the guts to look for oneself, the bravery to take conclusions for oneself.

Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!” – that is the motto of enlightenment.

– An Answer to the Question: “What is Enlightenment?”, by Immanuel Kant, Konigsberg, 1784. Translation: Lewis White Beck

The language may sound a bit outdated – obviously identity-politically incorrect – but the message is clear nevertheless. Who, then, are those people that put you down for presenting your own findings, that ask for your credentials when you come to your own conclusions, and that try to prevent you from living according to your own insights? Logically, and experientially, they are the submissive servants of the established, the disciples of the religion of scientism, the unenlightened adorers of the fat-assed expert-guru. Let‘s be clear here: This is not about folks who, after due and diligent inquiry, arrive at same or similar conclusions as somebody recognized as an expert, and I am not disparaging those who went especially deep into some matter by using official academic means of studying it. I am emphasizing self-empowerment, the courage to rise from tutelage when you want to or need to – and the fact that you are basically able to achieve this. It is absolutely possible for an ordinary person to reconnect to our innate capabilities for orientation in the natural world, and in collaboration with one‘s community to come up with myths or stories that provide meaning. It is totally within our abilities, as well, to look through the workings of the human world, to tear the shrouds of professional jargon, and to take apart and rearrange the cogs and wheels that make our societies and its subsets function.

Did the Fuggers go to business school? Did Schiller take creative writing courses? Were the Wright brothers professors of aeronautical engineering? Was Goethe a professor of everything? Was George Washington a political scientist? Did Jesus graduate in theology? Buddha in religion? Howard Carter in archaeology?

Legal implications

Since last year a common saying holds that, since Corona, everyone has become an expert on law and medicine these days. Some of the speakers mean to belittle with it the intellectual capacity of non-professionals for understanding what‘s going on; other speakers mean that saying literally: We learned to understand some stuff quite deeply because we had to. And this is how an enlightened, democratic, wise, anarchic, or acephalic society can only work: by sinking our teeth into the flesh of the matter and by applying common sense.

As a citizen in a democracy, for example, one supposedly is the sovereign of one‘s nation and therefore carries responsibility for what is going on. How can you do that if you fundamentally cannot understand how the state works, what its institutions‘ functions are, what your sovereignty allows or obliges you to do, or if you don‘t at least try to understand these and many other state-related issues? You wouldn‘t be able to vote the right guys into the job as you had no clue whether they were competent enough.

Being ignorant of the law does not protect you from punishment. Therefore, one also cannot avoid understanding the constitution, laws, ordinances and court decisions. If this were fundamentally impossible for the average citizen, we would live in an arbitrary state that throws jargon at us instead of giving reasons for its actions, and we could be held accountable of deeds we had no clue of whether they are legal or not.

All this leads to the rejection of the cult of the expert. Anyone who does not use his or her intellect is neither a responsible person nor a responsible citizen and thus not a sovereign. S/he lets others dictate what to see and how to see it – in the best case. In the worst case, s/he does not care at all about things of concern, but leaves them entirely to the experts. Stupid people make the best followers. Fine by me. Then the problem arises, though, that expertism and scientism come along with universalism, the claim to universal validity of one‘s viewpoint, and universalism comes along with the demand for everybody marching in lockstep. Punishment against dissenters, torture of heretics, and war against the Other are lurking right around the corner. As it seems, we‘re already past that corner.

(read Part 2, State-approved comparisons)

Another Nuremberg

I haven’t been shopping since March 15, 2020, the first day of curfew in India. Lockdown is the neologism for this – for once an apt expression, because it is a technical term originally used by prison administrations. I haven’t been to the doctor for a year, until last week not even to the dentist, although there was every reason to do so. I don’t go to the movies anymore, I don’t enter an office of the administration anymore, I don’t enter a cashier’s office of a bank anymore. I no longer travel, neither short nor long, neither by cab nor by train or even by airplane, the latter of which has become completely impossible. A book manuscript lies unprinted on my hard drive, gathering digital dust because the mere thought of crowded shops and city streets already feels suffocating. Invited by friends I went to lunch at a tiny cookshop that didn’t require specific clothing; I couldn’t enjoy it, though. I did resume work at the library, mainly at the insistence of the manager, who assured me I didn’t have to follow any rules, even if everyone else did. In the office, to myself, I have time to catch my breath again. But the way there, a few kilometers by bicycle is an ordeal. Not that anyone would talk to me about the missing mask, no. I wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all; I can’t stand the sight of people anymore and avoid being seen on my part. Me and people, we are a divorced couple.

There is a long history of early traumatization; life since hasn’t been too kind either. Of course, I could try to see the positive sides of life. Why don’t I try to see it more positively? Why don’t I start anew somewhere else? Why don’t I… ? – I guess because by now I lack the necessary faith that the grass is greener elsewhere. As I said, there is a long history, but it does not matter for what I have to say: That all of us individual cases with our human problems, our likes and dislikes, our opinions, insights and realizations, we don’t count any longer. Beyond our function as consumers, employees, taxpayers, cannon fodder, we have long since ceased to play any role in the way matters get handled. We are merely the objects of observation and control, generic members of statistically ascertainable norm groups. Gendered, risk-evaluated, labeled, sorted, directed, manipulated, exploited, eventually dumped.

The raised index finger for all those without a mask.
We comply with the Corona rules.

[Billboard by the City of Berlin, paid from taxpayer money]

New Barbarism

Corona just caps it all off. Hardly any intellectual fails to mention that the Corona State finally flushes to the surface what had been pushed underwater for so long: all kinds of toxic garbage, looted goods, gasping victims of terror, gnawed-up floaters, fears and traumas, screwed-up biographies, stolen dreams, lost raison d’être, abdicated freedom. Add to all that the codified injustice, the structural violence, and a mountain of epistemic baggage that keep our polities stuck in unreformable rigidity. In the face of nightmare societies competing for the worst way , one can hardly tell the difference whether I am writing about Germany, India, or say, Mexico.

A lot of words that, in short, are supposed to explain why, these days, my trust in the human capacity to bond, in the manifest social structure and – yes, also – in the specific individuals that surround me, has slipped away. I have lost the desire to see anyone anymore, lost the joy of hearing what is going on with this or that person. In the same way, when I think of the big names of our time – people from music, philosophy, politics, science, etc. – I’d rather they kept their mouths shut, because what comes out of there usually offends the mind. If the verbal garbage remained just words – ok. But unfortunately the call for ostracizing the dissenters and the demands for harder punishment of “deniers”, along with all the other fantasies of social barbarism get implemented without big scruples only too soon after… and the whole pack of established media provide a platform for the hysteria. The state’s regulations regime has overtaken many a satirical exaggeration within a few weeks by issuing ever more repressive orders. And then there are the non-state ‘measures’. A friend from Berlin writes:

“The day before yesterday I was actually physically attacked for the first time in my adult life in the park by an aggressive but at the same time somehow calculating man. Afterwards I did some asking around and in fact it happened to my roommate in a very similar way. The girlfriend of another acquaintance was slapped in the subway; another one was yelled at in the supermarket because of the distance rules. People here are starting to go crazy.”

Doublethink

There is an archaic conception of man at work, incompatible with my worldview: it’s not autonomous individuals endowed with dignity, embedded in loving communities, who shape their lives in a self-responsible manner, but fear-driven government subjects incapable of making rational decisions, who must be kept on a leash for their own good and who — as self-appointed guardians of the status quo – habitually obey pre-emptively. Real dangers have given way to obscure statistical risk potentials, your neighbor is always a danger to your life, denunciation is a civic duty, children’s birthday parties get broken up as criminal gatherings. How quickly the turnaround has happened is frightening in itself already, because as far as typical features of Nazi Germany were concerned, the rule went, NEVER AGAIN! But already in early May, six weeks into the curfew, my mother wrote from rural Black Forest:

“My physiotherapist, who is friends with a policeman, told me that in [the county seat] 1000 people call every day to report friends, relatives, neighbors and acquaintances to the police – for Corona misconduct!”

In the eyes of a not insignificant part of the population, freedom and human dignity are no longer inalienable rights, but privileges that have to be earned by conformity – and thus are reduced to absurdity. Civil and human rights dwell in best company with other terms that have been usurped into Newspeak: Attitudinal journalism operates as “reporting”, Nazis masquerade as “Antifa”, “solidarity” is understood as forced conformity, “development aid” drives whole continents into poverty, “humanitarian intervention” stands for genocide, “vaccination” has become another word for genetic manipulation, forcing women about to give birth to wearing masks is part of “health care”, the authoritarian regime pretends to be a “democracy”, mob rule prides itself on “civil courage”, the middle finger replaces the “index finger”… I could go on like this for hours and literally fill a whole dictionary – the neo-liberal dictionary of falsehoods, which I already mentioned in earlier articles.

Those who feel reminded of George Orwell have long since no need to fear overstretching the comparison. Dystopia can hardly be manifested more clearly and obviously. In the novel “1984” Orwell writes:

“[‘blackwhite’] means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink.”

Introduced later, the technical term for “doublethink” is “cognitive dissonance.”

De-Coronification

Here the question arises how after Corona — assuming the nightmare has a happy ending — a new togetherness can come about at all, given that such a massive slide into barbarism was supported by virtually all governmental, social, scientific and economic institutions, but especially by so many fellow human beings. How can one restore that trust to one’s arbitrary neighbor that is needed to build a relationship, how can one again look into the eyes of the perpetrators, of whom one knows that in their world one exists merely as an object?

I have my doubts that a simple “No hard feelings” approach is enough, because I cannot dismiss Schopenhauer’s remark that “to forgive and forget is to throw precious experience out of the window”. Prior to forgiveness, there must be recognition of one’s own transgressions and subsequent repentance. It involves the willingness to take responsibility for one’s own actions, to accept punishment, to repent, to make amends or at least to mitigate the damage. Then, and only then, may one forgive, but rather not forget. We must not allow ourselves to wrap the cloak of silence around the people’s role in the oppressing, torturing and murdering of millions, as we did after the disaster of the Third Reich, because at that time the historical traumas of hundreds of millions of people in dozens of nations remained buried deep in the individual and collective psyche. Uncured they continued to smolder within the closets of apparently purified hearts and minds, affected the world view of three or four subsequent generations, and found expression during the so-called pandemic in a mass hysteria unlike any other in history. The failed Denazification of post-WW2 – failed because it got stuck with mere criminalization of identified perpetrators — must be made up for in our present.

Denazification today means de-coronification. Without another trial based on the Nuremberg model – because of the symbolism (tribunal and codex) it should indeed take place in Nuremberg – a credible and trustworthy restoration of social cohesion is simply impossible. The enormity of what has happened demands a complete reappraisal, while those responsible for the worst mass suffering in human history must be held accountable. The thirst for revenge, the cry for crucifixion of exposed representatives of the Corona regime, however, must under no circumstances guide the trial. As now impressively demonstrated, with the death of the Nazi grandees, self-afflicted or on the gallows, the phantom of fascism was by no means banished, but could return in full glory as self-declared anti-fascism, as totalitarianism in democratic guise. The goal of a tribunal should be to educate the population about its own role in the emergence of tyranny. Of course, it is also urgent to ensure that the main characters in the Corona scam are permanently prevented from further agitation. Immediately thereafter, however, the real clean-up work begins: our language, our institutions, our laws and regulations, our economy and currency, our international as well as our personal relationships, our relationship to technology and food, and our use of art, medicine, science – basically, simply all elements of existence – must be examined. A complete revolution of our way of life becomes due, the core of which must be the confrontation of our traumas: a personal Nuremberg for each and every one of us.

When logic doesn’t apply

The interviewer asks what she is supposed to do about the climate crisis, and Roger holds that it’s obvious. As it isn’t to the interviewer he gives a simple analogy. Go to 15:25 and watch for two minutes only, to see what happens when we don’t allow ourselves to question our lifestyles and assumptions.

Roger misinterprets Ms Ahituv’s not getting the analogy as playing games. I believe she actually *is* incapable of following him. She really cannot spell out the obvious, even though a three-year old could have done the mechanical repetition of what has been said in the analogous example. Because that would have meant to overthrow everything she lives by, for, and from. Confronted with preferences, logic does not apply.

And this inability to simply go through an hypothetical exercise has nothing to do with the correctness of the assumptions around anthropogenic CO2 emissions as the main driver of global temperature increase. (I no longer believe in those, either.) We find the same deficiency in everyday life whenever it’s about inquiring root causes and putting into practice what we find out, be it about environmental destruction, the wealth gap, the Corona regime, patriarchy, corruption, or genocide. We know what to do about them: So far as we are concerned, to simply to stop doing them, participating in them, staying quiet about them, endorsing them. What’s complicated about changing our own behaviour (rather than waiting for society to change) are our thoughts on how this would rock our boat and make us uncomfortable at first. We don’t know what to do without our comforts, and we wouldn’t dare to think how life could be arranged in different ways. Our unwillingness to question our preferences, assumptions and the stuff we deem “obviously real” kills not only our culture of reasonable discussion, it kills life on this planet in wholesale.

The reason why I hold that civilized culture and a good measure of its members are completely insane is this pathological inability to shed the distorted, delusional, dysfunctional sense of self which guides our thoughts and actions.

Karuppaa, ingge vaa!

As the event slowly but unstoppably unfolded – his life shifting from one state to another – these words from a song about a drug addict began to invade my thoughts; at first just a line or two. The further time proceeded the more the verse completed and the more often – and more urgently – it pushed itself to the foreground. In my life, like you probably did as well, I have heard devastatingsongs about losing someone, and I have read wise booksabout facing ultimate loss. None of those was present in my mind. It had to be this one; please don’t ask me why.

And can you hear me now
Or are there just too many doors
Between then and now
For me to ever reach on through
And pull you back somehow
But that can’t happen anymore
Still in the night
I think I hear you calling

Can you hear me now, Savatage, 1991

But let’s start at the start.
It was Christmas, 2018, early morning. Hasini, the oldest daughter of our matriarch Zicke, gave birth to the first kid in the third generation of our goat herd. Before anyone could rush to her support the kid lay there on the ground of the pen, by the side of his bewildered mother. She obviously wasn’t her usual self though, not the self-confident member of a herd who has always been the first to point out to us that one of her mates was in need of something. She wouldn’t look at the kid, she wouldn’t lick it clean like most mammalian mothers use to do immediately after birth, and she certainly wouldn’t suckle the boy. We needed to hold her fast; she would withhold her milk anyway. Soon enough we had to supplement with cow milk. And thus began the little fellow’s early discovery of the world beyond the pen’s limits, the land of milk and cuddling and safety from getting puffed by other goats which his mom would not protect him from. Humans became his foster parents who named him Karuppaa, based on the Tamil word for ‘black’. Apart from his reddish black hair his signature features were his slightly prolonged upper jaw and a distinct way of bleating that sounded something like “mmma!” Yes, it ended on an audible exclamation mark which indicated that he was addressing us with a request, and it would sound rather like “mmaa?” when he was inquiring our whereabouts. A typical dialogue ran like this:

Karuppaa (searching): Mmaa?”
Me: “Karuppaa, ingge vaa!”(Tamil: come here).
Karuppaa(closing in): “Mmaa?”
Me (teasing): “Wo isch dr Bua?” (Swabian: Where is my boy?)
Karuppaa: “Mmma!”
Me: Ah, do isch dr Bua!” (Swabian: There’s my boy!)
Karuppaa(demanding): “Mmma!”
So I offered him food and stroked him.

Hasini, bewildered

Karuppaa was all over the place. He roamed the farm like a dog; like a dog he used to sniff out the places where we lived or worked; such a delight. When we collected and cleaned the harvest from our farm Karuppaa would inspect the items with great interest; then he would nibble on some of them, preferably those which we had cleaned and bundled already. When he roamed the fields himself he went for the grasses and herbs. He rarely touched the crops.

Ten months passed, time that usually indicates that a young one survived the most vulnerable time in a goat’s life, so I wasn’t prepared for an existential crisis setting in. From previous losses we knew that younger kids may die from that condition which brings about progressing weakness and belly aches. We believed that Karuppaa was strong enough to make it through anyway. We were worried, though. Experience taught us that veterinaries wouldn’t visit for a goat, and when they eventually do they don’t ask much for details as long as they may sell their overprized drugs. As we still didn’t know what the matter was we tried various home remedies some of which Karuppaa liked while he was protesting others. Nevertheless his health deteriorated further. When he could hardly stand up anymore we called a vet who, to our surprise, immediately agreed to pass by – though it would take him another day.

He was all over the place

I spent that night, like the night before, mostly in the goat pen, to help Karuppaa getting up, for stretching his legs, peeing, eating and drinking, and to prevent the others from pushing him over. His friends Leela, Karuppi (a bluish-black doe) and Jackie huddled with him, keeping him warm. Tintin, Shakti, Hasini and Niko joined in now and then. Midnight passed, Divali began, the Indian festival of lights. I thought he’d die before the doc could see him. “Happy Divali, Karuppaa!”, I said anyway, wishing him well while counting down the hours till his last hope for a cure was supposed to arrive. Being late by yet another three hours the vet administered four injections (one to each leg), two bitter tablets, and some tasty neon-coloured energy drink, all of which seemed to stabilize the kid somehow and caused him to relieve himself of a whole lot of crap that had caused him visible discomfort. I dare say I had high hopes for a recovery. For closer observation I took him to my home where he rested, tucked between a yoga mat and some warming shirts. Karuppaa craved that energy drink which I continued to offer him hourly, as prescribed by the good doctor. He sucked noisily on the syringe’s nozzle. Then, around seven, when the night had fully broken, things got worse quickly. The cramps returned as viciously as never before.

in the land of milk & cuddling

I put another mat, sitting myself by his side, talking to him, holding his belly and keeping it warm. That seemed to relax him a bit.
Attempts at getting some sleep were interrupted by moaning. When Divali ended the both of us were awake and we would stay so, perhaps each of us sensing that we were spending our last hours together. When around three o’clock his limbs went cold I knew he was on the slippery slope now from which there would be no return. Intermittent rain set in, hammering on the tin roof of my home, drowning out his signs of life. Would I notice when his breath stopped? Is it as comforting to pass away to the sound of rain as it is when going to sleep? When the rain subsided the call of the muezzin from a neighboring village came through. I listened for his heartbeat. It was now inaudible, only his flat breath was noticeable, and the belly pain weakly responded to by cramps. Tears swelled from his eyes. His last minutes were ticking away.

Karuppaa,” I cooed one last time, “wo isch dr Bua?” He replied in his usual way, crowing faintly Mmma” in response to my call. I would have loved to see him recover and mature, but this was now beyond possible. He needed to move on, and I had to let him go. Resisting the urge to hoot the usual ‘ingge vaa,I said, with a breaking heart, the words instead which I never spoke to him before: “Angge po,” go there, to the ancestors and the friends who are no longer with us. “Send them my greetings and tell them I still love them and think of them.” I opened the door and curtains of my room, letting him take in the beautiful scene of the dawn rising upon our farm. Grey sky and lush vegetation reflected from the puddles the rain had created everywhere. Silently he passed away with open eyes, around the time when I usually came to see him in the goats’ pen. It was Monday, October, 28th 2019, 5.55am.
Karuppaa…”
I cried.

inspecting items

Karuppaa has taught me how to love, so I may have been too attached to his survival to not call the doctor. I fell for the hope that doing the doable might save his life. After all, if I hadn’t done it I would have killed him by omission, right? But what if the treatment only extended his suffering, or worse: did the actual killing? After all, allopathic doctors know everything about the signs of sickness, yet nothing about healing. They misunderstand the essence of life in the same way that most everyone in our culture misunderstands the nature of death.

What is life? What is death? I don’t know. The immensity of death brings with it doubts and questions amass. All I know is that life and death are not what I thought they were, not the concepts I carried in my mind, about discrete states of existence, about being switched on or off, about individual consciousness encapsulated in separate bodies. What makes a goat a goat? What is a human being? Who is that Me that claims to own thoughts, emotions, body, and things? What is time? We tell ourselves stories that attempt to answer these questions; this is the stuff of mythology.

Every culture has its own mythology. Ours is called science – the set of myths that tell tales about separate material objects which get pushed about by meaningless forces within an unconcerned universe. I have lived this story for four decades straight, and it has killed all the life that has been in me when my mother gave birth. I was emotionally dead, save for a burning anger that increasingly shifted its modus operandifrom occasional outbursts to permanent battle with depression, and I felt nothing apart from the pain of being in this Dawkins dog-eat-dog world of materialist meaninglessness.

what is life?

It is thanks to the animals on our farm – amongthem beingKaruppaa – that I learned to notice the space in-between, the realm of relationship, of meaning, purpose, spirit, joy, love, sacredness and other immaterial yet essential ingredients of existence. I began to explore that space, a space of multi-layered reality in which “me”, “my life” and “death” are basically stories, concepts, mental constructs. Except for on the level of thoughts and emotions they have no discrete existence. The reason for our not understanding the “unjustifiable violation” (Tolkien) of our freedom and integrity by death, our not getting the essence of what life and death are, lies in the dysfunctional concepts by which we use to define them. The ceasing of metabolic activities and the disintegration of the body, i.e. the things that separate the living from the dead, catches our eye; a whole lot of continuing phenomena don’t. While we overrate the significance of the individual object, life – the space between objects – is seemlessly carrying on.

The world is not populated by lonely, autonomous, sovereign beings. It is made of a constantly oscillating web of dynamic interaction in which beings mutually transform each other. It’s the relationship that counts, not the substance. Andreas Weber: Lebendigkeit. Eine erotische Ökologie. Koesel, 2014, 3. Aufl., p. 36; translation mine

Other cultures have less trouble integrating death into their lives. This is perhaps due to the fact that, for them, things are not lifeless masses in the first place. For many of them mountains and trees are people too. When we listen to cosmic radiation for signs of civilizations, or when we have robots dig up Mars in search of extraterrestrials our failure to find any is perhaps related to our culture’s inability to see the conscious aliveness in plants and animals, in landscapes and ecosystems, or in the Earth as a whole.

impermanent beauty

I’m not sure about it yet but I think it highly possible that the difference between that which is alive and that which is not is merely conceptual. Let me give an example.
What is a symphony? Is it the sheet music? The sound waves? Our perception of those sound waves? The process of making music or, in its place, the playing of a record? All of these? None of them? Is the music ‘dead’ after the last note has faded? Does it resurge when it plays in our mind, as a memory?
In the same way, who is “Karuppaa”? Did he have an existence completely apart from mine? Or did I define him as much as he defined me when we co-created, shaped and inhabited the space in-between? What does it mean for his existence when I think of him today?

I find it likely that life, just like music, consists of stories that we fabricate to make sense of the phenomena we perceive. They don’t have to be anything else but digestible explanations on how the world works, so that we can function within it. There are places where those stories break down, usually in the extremes of infinity and nothingness – which is especially true for mathematics, one of the core sciences – but as long as we don’t go there we’re safe from the Unknown. Problem is, our mythology has reached its limits; as the world around us now rapidly disintegrates we begin to understand that our rationalistic worldview ignores too much of reality for us to live sustainably.

The conventional models of human response are based on the civilized world and, yes, there are common strands in all cultures but, for instance, when a death occurs in a tribal culture that has, like all animals, accepted death as part of life then denial is not part of the equation. Neither is bargaining – for how can you bargain with the inevitable? When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross posited her model for bereavement, it was always going to a be a model for how the civilized human deals with death; it took no account of the way all humans deal with death, for not only are we all slightly different in our approach to everything – not just bereavement – we, as de facto civilized humans, are freaks. Homo sapiens civilis never evolved. Civilized humans have been created in the image of the machine: we don’t behave as normal human beings any more. Keith Farnish: Underminers. A practical guide for radical change, 2012, p.92

I swear I hear you calling

When it comes to encounters with the “end of life” I don’t deny, rage, bargain, or despair any longer. Death is a natural and therefore acceptable part of my existence. And yet the pain from seeing someone suffering or losing him or her is tremendous. Is the immensity of the phenomenon we call “death” really only of cultural nature? Maybe not alone, but certainly to a degree. Life as such is normally not perceived as immense or intense; it is ordinary to us because we became used to it by having lived uninterruptedly for years. (It speaks volumes that people who came back from a coma, had a near-death experience, or “died” to their old way of perceiving the world see things in a different light.) Death, though, breaks this normalcy; to our great horror we have no power over it. Our usual mode by which we analyze, label, rationalize, manipulate, control and wage war on “problematic” situations fails us. Our linear (rather than cyclical, or eternally present) conception of time – flowing unidirectionally from a definite beginning to a definite ending – cripples us further; linear time perhaps produces the misconception of the life-death dichotomy in the first place, and with it our impotence to handle it in a meaningful way.

Impotence creates despair, which leads to denial, which leads to acceptance, the most dangerous state of all. In the civilized world the Kübler-Ross model of bereavement is powerfully analogous to how we deal with all sorts of stressful events. The way to break out of it is not to grieve for what may be lost, but to leave this linear pathway and create something that has numerous outcomes.(Underminers, p.479)

Teacher

I would agree to that last sentence only after one slight change: “the way to break out of it is not to grieve indefinitelyfor what may be lost” but to re-enter the circle of life, transform grief back into love, and use this energy for fostering life. For strong grief comes from great love, and love is the most powerful driver of all when it comes to living one’s life.

Love is the agony of living. And the modern addiction to painlessness makes love impossible, makes it flatten so much that life merely trickles away. Reimer Gronemeyer: Die Weisheit der Alten, p.68; translation mine.

The shift from the linear to the circular paradigm, from the fear-based to the love-based worldview is not easy for me. Decades of civilized socialization – otherwise known as domestication – created all kinds of traps and obstacles to get stuck in. So please forgive me for asking more questions than offering solutions. I’m also not keen on publishing obituaries though there were ample opportunities to write them. There is the danger of getting attached not only to the past, but to this one written version of the past especially. There is also the danger of building Tadj Mahals for the dead while the living, neglected, dwell in shacks. I love all the animals on the farm, and I accompanied the dying of a few of them, similar to how a hospice worker would. But Karuppaa was a special friend, someone who would not let me escape without deep inquiry into suffering, his and mine. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others, you know.

Grey sky and lush vegetation reflected from the puddles

Lt. Doolittle strikes again

Those who harbour a knack for science fiction books and films might have enjoyed John Carpenter’s Dark Star, a grade-B comedy on the crew of a cosmic ice breaker removing unstable planets across the galaxy to blaze a safe trail for future colonists. One day, after twenty years of deterioration, the ship has a serious malfunction: one of the intelligent planet busters gets stuck in its brackets, threatening to blow up right at the side of the ship.

Due to the damage to the ship’s computer, the crew members cannot activate the release mechanism and attempt to abort the drop. After two prior accidental deployments, Bomb #20 refuses to disarm or abort the countdown sequence. The computer activates dampers to confine the blast to a diameter of one mile, but that is all it can do at the moment. As Pinback and Boiler try to talk the bomb out of blowing up underneath the ship, Doolittle revives Commander Powell, who advises him to teach the bomb the rudiments of phenomenology. After donning a space suit and exiting the ship to approach the bomb directly, Doolittle engages in a philosophical conversation with Bomb #20 until it decides to abort its countdown and retreat to the bomb bay for further contemplation. [Wikipedia: Dark Star]

Bomb #20 & Lt. Doolittle, scene from John Carpenter’s ‘Dark Star’

Doolittle’s conversation with the bomb counts among the funniest moments in science fiction. The lieutenant attempts to convince Bomb #20 that it cannot know for sure that it has received a real detonation order, as that order has arrived by way of electrical impulses only – mediated. Without immediate knowledge of the outside world there is a significant probability the impulses have transmitted false data. Would the bomb shed its existence, once and forever, based on a – perhaps false – perception?

Dark Star has amused me ten years ago; it has me chuckling even today, 300+ philosophical essays after first watching the film. The problem Doolittle puts before the bomb cannot be solved by rational means. Cartesian rationality has reduced selfhood to mind, and mind located in the brain or in a micro-chip of an individual. The brain in a jar scenario Doolittle sells the bomb as nature-of-reality keeps us caught stewing in our own juice, with no means of knowing whether there is an outside world at all – unless we allow irrational knowledge in. Despite heavily building on Descartes’ emphasis on the mind as the core of what we call ‘me’(the subject), modern science admits the sensory perception of an observer for determining what is objectively true and real. Insisting on just one reality existing ‘out there’, well knowing that different observers see different realities, science has outsourced perception to supposedly unbiased machines, thus adding another layer of perception between the observer and the observed.

Despite everything that is wrong with the general notion of modern science, let’s just assume for the sake of argument that it has a good grip on reality, and let’s try and solve some exemplary questions.

What is Time?
So there we delve right into the ‘matter’ of time. What is time?

Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, to the future. Time is a component quantity of various measurements used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events or the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change… [Wikipedia: Time]

Wikipedia’s definition of time as a measurable process might be just as good as any definition, weren’t it for the fact that numerous philosophers, whole cultures even, have denied its existence altogether, for good reasons I won’t get into with this article. So what are we left with?

The above definition negates itself by saying that time is indefinite, literally not defined, i.e. without an end. We might also say it pervades everything in its way, informs everything, or even is everything. So it cannot be a separate thing; rather a no-thing. Following the above formulation it could be an aspect of existence, a ‘component quantity’, as Wikipedia put it, a quality, or just a mental concept.

Apart from this not-merely linguistic observation, considering that time is not a thing we can touch, smell, taste, feel, hear, i.e. perceive physically, how do we perceive time scientifically? How to we measure time?
We don’t.

As opposed to the above definition, time is not getting usedfor sequencing events, comparing durations, or quantifying change – time’s existence is assumed on the basis of our perception of changes. A snail creeps through our visual field from left to right; we think that this takes time during which the clock has moved from displaying one-quarter past the hour to one-half past the hour; we think that the clock has measured time. But the clock doesn’t react to something timy. It has not observed an external process or thing, it just follows a mechanical or electronic program: the movement of the sun past a sundial, the falling of crystals through the neck of an hourglass, the releasing of a spring, the movement of electrons. A mechanical clock not fully wound or a digital watch whose battery is mostly empty give different figures. So clocks don’t measure time. If anything they measure ‘energy’ discharged from celestial bodies, Earth’s gravity, a spring, a battery, or decaying atoms.

Sgt Pinback & Lt. Doolittle, scene from John Carpenter’s ‘Dark Star’

What is Energy?
So what is energy? Can you see it, touch it, hear it…? Again, there is no way by which we could safely state that energy is a thing in the usual sense of English vernacular. Energy is a concept encompassing a broad range of different manifestations, from gravity to heat, electricity, velocity, or light. Again, like with time, we cannot measure the essence of it; its mere presence cannot be perceived, only effects that we attribute to its discharge. That means it is hardly different from black holes, dark matter, and dark energy, all of which cannot be perceived; they exist merely within mathematical formulae that describe concepts in physics.

What is Matter?
So what is matter, then? This is the stuff of perception… we believe. We can smell and taste the sweat on our skin, yet those molecules which reach our sensory organs represent only a tiny fraction of the diverse stuff a human being consists of. We can hear the clap of a hand or the sigh of a breath; another fraction of reality. We can see the shape and colour and movement of an animal, yet more fractions. And we may touch its body. (We’ll come to this in a minute).

What happens when we see something? Rays (another imperceptible concept) of light approach a body, then get reflected by it and enter the eye of the observer. On passing the cornea they are getting refracted and inverted, then they hit the retina which reacts by sending electric signals to the brain. The brain interprets the signals into an image which the observer may use for orienting herself in 3D space. The rays, the reflector, the retina image, the signals and the brain’s image are not the same thing, and certainly they are not the thing as such.

Rays of light are invisible until they hit an object and reflect into the observer’s eye. The light particles that hit my eye are not the same which hit yours. The light changes its brightness and colour in interaction with the reflector. That thing we think we both see is invisible as long as there is no light reflecting from it. Its shape and colour come into existence only in interaction with light, and each light reflection is unique. So we don’t see the same thing: each of us is taking in a different set of altered light rays. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Eye sight has become the most important sense of civilized humans, but it provides perception only at a distance. According to the latest science visible matter is the smallest part of the stuff that makes the Universe. Less than one half percent can be seen. Not sure whether that includes other sources of radiation like micro-waves or infra-red, but the overwhelming amount of what the Universe supposedly consists of cannot be perceived or measured; it is getting deduced from formulae. A person who hears poltergeists or sees demons and ghosts, or someone having lucid dreams does have a less-distanced grasp on reality, you could say. At least they see something meaningful to their lives.

Now let’s get closer. Let’s touch that thing we’ve seen, say, a cow’s horn. What happens here? Molecules emitted from the surfaces of hand and horn, some of which can be smelled, begin to mix when we approach the animal. The closer we get the more homogenous the mix, while at the same time it gets displaced by the very mechanism that will eventually stop the moving-closer of the hand. From what science believes, the space between atoms is huge. In a way it is empty, filled only with something science calls ‘forces’ – energy which, again, cannot be seen or otherwise perceived directly. The atomic charges of human skin and cow horn keep the actual atoms within each surface at a distance. They never really touch, though the repelling forces are taken up by our nerve ends, transmitted to the brain and then interpreted as a feeling of hard resistance, of pressure. We think we touch a cow when actually we’re not. Amazing.

Perhaps it helps to rid ourselves of the idea that matter is made of atoms alone. Perhaps the ‘forces’ are part of matter as well. Even so, we still have the problem of not being able to directly perceive or measure it. We can’t get to the thing-as-such. So far, it’s all myths and stories, and they work only within a certain range. It’s like with the Sun revolving around the observer – a good-enough story for a farmer, not for space exploration.

The thing as such, what is it?

Bombed out in space with a spaced-out bomb!

As all rational information comes pre-selected and mediated by our senses and interpreted by our brains only, direct contact and immediate knowledge seem impossible to achieve under the rationalist-materialist paradigm. The realm of numbers and hard facts are but an illusion. Which is not to say we cannot learn something here, or that there weren’t other ways of knowing. Wild people have told white people how to learn about the beneficial effects of herbs: by asking the plants. It is not known to us how the Dogon acquired their knowledge about the stars but we may assume they have their way, and it’s not by making it up. Just two examples of how perception might be quite different from how we think it works and/or how the substance of existence might be quite different from what we think it is.

The story of the six blind and the elephant describes perfectly how the thing-as-such cannot be grasped fully by perceiving (or measuring) it. One organ of perception alone captures one slice of that thing, and each further organ and each further technical measurement capture further aspects of reality, but neither the essence (if there is such a thing) nor the totality of it (if there is a separate existence to it) can be grasped by sensory perception alone. And perhaps even matter is not everything there is to existence. Hardly news to anybody not buying into the culture of utilitarianism, rationalism, materialism or scientism.

It’s quite interesting what those notions have taught us. Yet we better not fall into the trap that those were the only ways by which perception can be interpreted into cosmological knowledge; nor do they provide the full truth about existence. The linearity and directedness of the dominant world view is limited by definition: things must have a beginning and an end, and we move from the first to the second. The civilized worldview breaks down with the infinitesimally small and the immeasurably huge because mathematics use to break down when Zero or Infinity enter the equation. What was before the Big Bang? It’s a pointless question. There was no time before time has emerged through the imagined singularity.

By its non-understanding of circularity, diversity, unity, emptiness, or quality, the materialist world of the separate and discrete me-the-mind creates threats to its own existence. Based on the Cartesian worldview Doolittle has taught it, Bomb #20 believes that, as there is nothing outside of it that can safely be called real, it has to orient by what it knows about itself. Being a bomb and therefore being destined to explode it utters, “Let there be light,” before blowing itself up – a perfect mirror of the myth of the technological Golden Age and the reality of a world in collapse.

Separation from Emptiness

Returning from Friesenheim once more, where I participated, for the third time [2017][2018], in the summer university‘s discussion on a given topic, I feel a bit at loss how to summarize what we have found. We were talking about ‘being weak’ – this was the event’s topic at least – which, to a certain extent, we did. But the subgroup I was with immersed itself deeply in the meme of separation central to a text excerpt from Charles Eisenstein’s book The Ascent of Humanity we used, and we were also grappling with the near-term demise of global industrial civilization, another meme which popped up all over the place. People seemed to unanimously expect it to happen, and often imagined it to come about in a kind of crash, because it was hard to see for them, us, how our culture would change voluntarily. ‘People’ means, academics mainly from sciences like sociology, psychology, or religion, but also biologists, therapists, engineers, ministry officials, self-employeds, craftsmen, book authors and a range of other professions.

the conception of ourselves as discrete and separate subjects in a world of other. This is the ideology of separation. The ideology that has created the human realm we know is the same ideology that has us despair we can ever change it ~~Charles Eisenstein’s website

it is separation that has generated the converging crises of today’s world. People of a religious persuasion might attribute the fundamental crisis to a separation from God; people of an ecological persuasion, to a separation from nature; people engaged in social activism might focus on the dissolution of community (which is a separation from each other); we might also investigate the psychological dimension, of separation from lost parts of ourselves. For good or ill, it is separation that has made us what we are […]

No, I’m not going to blame it all on “capitalism”, for our economic system too is more a symptom than a cause of separation. ~~Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity, Introduction

‘By chance,’ on the very day after my return from Friesenheim, separation also played a role in an online discussion on the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. Being asked whether I knew something that would clarify the meaning of Nirvana, I said something to the tunes of:
I’m not sure about ‘knowing’ more, but I would add some more delusion and confusion, if you allow me to 😉 I’m not closely familiar with the Buddha’s original teachings but I think we’ll be getting close enough.
Marianne Gronemeyer, professor emeritus, social scientist, philosopher, book author, and one of the Friesenheim hosts strongly suggested in a verbal exchange that “understanding” another person is impossible to achieve. We will never know what someone truly felt or meant to say, and it is a sign of arrogance to claim otherwise. This is not to invite sloppiness into our communication, but humbleness and deep listening. Nevertheless, in general, I find it nourishing and useful to develop our own understanding from even the most superficial take on other people’s concepts. Even false or decontextualized quotes may help with this (as long as we don’t use the originator’s name in an authoritative way, claiming that she’d agree with us).
So, diving into the Nirvana discussion with my online discussion mate, she quoted from Joseph Campbell.

“The verb nirva (Sanskrit) is, literally, ‘to blow out,’ not transitively, but as a fire ceases to draw… Deprived of fuel, the fire of life is ‘pacified’ i.e. quenched, when the mind has been curbed, one attains to the ‘peace of Nirvana,’ ‘despiration in God.’ … It is by ceasing to feed our fires that the peace is reached, of which it is well said in another tradition that ‘it passeth understanding’ […] The word “de-spiration” is contrived from a literal Latinization of the Sanskrit nirvana, nir = “out, forth, outward, out of, out from, away, away from”; nirvana = “blow out, gone out, extinguished.” ~~Joseph Campbell, Hero with A Thousand Faces, p. 139

The etymological meaning of Nirvana adds an interesting new angle for me, as I have learned the word as describing Emptiness, the liberation from attachment to the material world, and the end point of the cycle of rebirth.

The void is the fifth element known to Asian cultures. The void is obviously the dominant, most abundant element. It is not empty in the European sense of emptiness or nothingness but holds the relationships between things, so it’s actually very full. Many regard it as the real substance of existence. Life, for Asians (and also wild peoples), is relatedness, as opposed to the European sense of separate selves and discrete objects.

Adyashanti, a modern teacher with Zen and Christian roots, describes Emptiness as the matrix from which form (matter, thought, emotion etc) emerges. Sound rises from silence which is always there. Thought arises from stillness which is always there. Existence arises from non-existence which is always there. Enlightenment is our mode of existence; that’s why we cannot attain it, but only awaken to it. Enlightenment is realizing Emptiness, Nirvana, in which no thing exists, which means there are no distinctions, which means this is ‘where’ Oneness lies. So Emptiness is both empty and not-empty. Important to note, here, are the different concepts of Emptiness: Oneness (formlessness) in Buddha’s sense, relatedness (which requires forms) in Asian folk religion/culture, as well as in Eisenstein’s philosophy, of course.

My conversation partner developed an interesting thought:

This may sound strange, but I wonder if releasing all the delusions that the mind creates and then holds so dear is not a lot like peeing… and the relief of emptiness once all the stuff the body can no longer use is gotten rid of… maybe the mind needs to get rid of all the stuff it can not longer use.

Yes, it feels exactly like this when I’m writing. It’s like pee seeking release from its narrow confines, collecting, releasing, and collecting once more.
As for getting rid of ‘stuff,’ by which we usually mean thought and its contents – that’s not necessary in an extinguishing way in order to enter Nirvana. All it takes is being with it. Imagine that like sitting in a car with the motor running idle, when the motor doesn’t force the car into motion. There’s a funny moment in one of Krishnamurti’s talks (The Real Revolution #1, 16:00 –19:25) where he ‘explains’ that issue to somebody asking, How?

Adyashanti says, the idea of control over one’s life

is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. It is based on an understanding that you are a separate individual person, human being, separate from the whole, separate from others and separate from life, and you need to make sure that your life and your car get where you want it to get. If there is a prescription for suffering, I’d say, that’s about as accurate as you can get. Funny thing is that the very prescription for suffering is the very thing that we think is the prescription for happiness. ~~Surrender or suffer

Mel Weitsman put the matter of getting rid of thought like this: “When thoughts come, you can invite them in but don’t serve them tea.” There is a time and place for the application of thought; just don’t let thought run your car.

Words rest in thought; thought creates illusion which veils the reality of Emptiness, Non-Existence. That’s why we may enter Nirvana by being still and detaching ourselves from delusion. When you chip away everything that is not true in your life you end up with nothing to hold on to: Emptiness.

Language (especially European languages) acts like an obstacle in the way of understanding here because it only inaccurately translates Asian / Zen reality into the concepts and the basic assumptions of (our) culture. Words create paradoxies where there are none, eg. if Non-existence is that which does not exist, Non-existence does not exist; what does that mean for a (no-) thing like ‘Emptiness’? These things are better seen than spoken about.
On a side note, those paradoxies are powerful tools for shocking people out of unquestioned assumptions and help opening them up to the reality of Emptiness. Having clear concepts of Nirvana does not help with either understanding or awakening to it; so I’m not sure whether my words do you any favour 😀

PS
see also: Deepak Chopra – The nature of reality
Thanks to Rob de Laet.

What is intelligence?

Regarding the topic of abstraction which was of central importance in the last Yurugu essay I would like to point out today some of its greater ramifications. To be precise, this is about intelligence and the difference between humans and animals.
Discussing the latter – what it supposedly is that makes the human species so special among the world’s species – you will always hear someone say that, “(a) Humans got a bigger brain, (b) which makes them more intelligent, (c) and this is the reason why humans are more successful survivors than any other living being.”
None of these three assertions is true.
The human brain has a volume of 1050-1500 ccm and weighs ~1.3 kg, the sperm whale’s has a volume of up to 8000 ccm and weighs up to 9.5 kg.
The assertion that humans have the best relative brain size is also false; our brain-to-body mass ratio is 1:40; mice or songbirds have a much better ratio. Insects seem best equipped, with brain mass measuring up to one seventh of the total body mass.
Among humans, the Neanderthals had a 25-30% bigger brain than modern sapiens, so brain size doesn’t necessarily help with survival.
Whether humans possess the highest intelligence depends on how you define intelligence, and how you measure it. I would hold that we – ie. civilized man – are not performing well in this category either: From a look at the Wikipediawe learn that there are “many ways” how intelligence has been defined, namely “logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving,” most of which belong into the realm of abstract thinking. We’ll come to that in a minute.
Emotional knowledge, also called emotional intelligence or EQ – “the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)” – belongs to a totally different category.
Working with domestic animals, but also through observation of wildlife in India, I perceive animals as being extremely aware of each other’s moods. And while civilized codes of conduct usually expect of us that we suppress the showing, expressing, or reacting to emotions, animals often perfectly mirror, or respond to what the human beings nearby are up to. This is not to be confused with techniques like “Non-violent communication” or “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (how telling!), by which a person’s needs, or their conscious or subconscious thoughts and emotions may become accessible, and – by civilized mindsets – misused for personal gain.
Like with the loss of much of our potential for sensual perception – we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel way less than our tribal sisters/brothers and ancestors – the loss of EQ results in a reduced ability to react intelligently to challenges.
Regarding the ability to think (abstractly), I came to the following understanding.
  1. If the theory of evolution (or some similar process) holds true, the human capacity to think (abstractly) must be present in other living beings, and certainly among our mammalian ancestry as well. In fact, if you look out for it, you will find it most obviously among corvidae, canidae, felidae, elephantidae, cetaceae and many more.
  2. That animals (or plants) are able to think (abstractly), or to develop consciousness of self, cannot be disproven in general.
  3. So-called “primitive” tribal human cultures often do not apply time measuring, maths, arts, or rational logic, nor do they develop complex societies and languages. Most of the times you will find a lack of most abstract concepts with them, concepts that civilized people completely base their behaviour upon. This does not mean tribal humans were incapable of abstract thinking: Abducted tribal babies raised in civilized societies developed just like any of our children. Thanks to Thomas Wynn (The Evolution of Spatial Competence, 1989) we know that at least a million years ago, our ancestors had an intelligence equalling that of the adult human today.
  4. So (abstract) thinking is a faculty available to a large number of species, it seems, certainly vertebrate species, and the use of abstraction is culturally determined, which means it is a choice made by each creature or culture. Tribal cultures must have deliberately refused to apply most kinds of abstract thinking for two to three million years of the genus homo, and continue to do so – on purpose, according to anthropological records from all over the world.
  5. The use of abstract thinking on the scale that civilizations apply may not be found in non-human species and tribal human cultures because it is counterproductive to the survival of the species / culture… The omnicidal (implicitly suicidal) behaviour of civilized cultures – especially our own, I would say with a side glance to the convergence of existential crises we are witnessing today – is proving this point best. On “falling back into savagery,” as the figure of speech has it, civilized man defaults on his true modus operandi; it is himself who is a real savage, not the tribal humans he continues to dismiss as unintelligent brutes and who declare him a sick person, a madman, because he is destroying himself along with everyone else.
pic: Saksham Choudhary, / pexels
IQ tests check a person’s ability to juggle with symbols, ie. to think abstractly. Despite what the phrase suggests, they do not actually measure intelligence. And neither do book reading, chess playing,  academic careers, or working with computers indicate higher levels of intelligence. 
Intelligence, as Jiddu Krishnamurti, in a public discussion held in Ojai, CA, on April 14, 1977, said, “is the capacity to see the truth that thought is limited. It can only come into being when thought has its right place. When there is no ‘me’, attention is intelligence.” And it is this attention that improves a being’s ability to survive. According to Krishnamurti, it requires an integration of reason and love. Cultures based on love and empathy for other living beings, including “inanimate objects” such as the world as a whole, often times perfectly merge with what civilized people call “environment”. Egocentrism and perceived separation, on the other hand, reduce our perceptions, narrow their processing according to personal interest, twist our understanding through the application of dysfunctional illusory concepts, and thus diminish intelligence.
I don’t know whether you, my dear reader, possess the willingness to consider the nature of intelligence from such a point of view. We may not come to a common understanding of what that thing is, or whether it has any existence outside philosophical pondering at all; so the question which makes up the title of my essay may not have an answer to it. But perhaps we might agree on what intelligence is not. Considering where it has led us it cannot be the kind of abstract thinking which is tearing the world into separate, standardized, measurable, lifeless bits and pieces, reduces them to words and symbols, and assumes that these represent the truth accurately enough to derive predictability of the world’s phenomena.
I also don’t know why or how our ancestors began their path towards civilization – the social manifestation of abstract thinking – but I sure know that it helped us to learn a whole lot about self-deception, violence, disconnection, and virtual reality. If our culture were a book, it’s title might run something like, “Civilization, or, How to Wreck Your Habitat As Fast As Possible.” Mistakes, though, are among the most powerful teachers we have. The things which don’t work can give us valuable hints at what might. Let’s take those ten thousand years of misery as a warning. To end our experiment in abstract, platonic living in favour of the return to an empathic relationship with the world would be the most intelligent decision this culture has ever taken.

Consciousness and conscience atrophied (Yurugu series #3)

The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book “Yurugu: An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior”, is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book’s central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.

[previous article]

With technology, we have developed massive power that can be used for better or for worse. However, our consciousness, and our conscience – what the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire called “conscientisation” – has not kept pace with invention.

This has left us utterly exposed to the blandishments of marketing. Exposed to what might be thought of as “Microsoft security vulnerabilities” within the human psyche.

– (Alastair McIntosh: Extinction Rebellion – a ‘joyous call’, in: The Ecologist, 18.12.2018)

Marimba Ani, from World Afropedia (cc by-nc-sa 3.0)

Shaped by the utterings of my teacher back in 7th grade religious education, something like McIntosh’s view has been my conviction until only recently. I’m not quite clear on when the change of perspective happened. I only know when it came to the forefront, with a bang: when I read the above article. Suddenly I thought, this is a damn myth, harping on the idea that, basically, our techno-scientific culture was a natural development, and that the artifacts created and the concepts adopted had no inherent value, and so could be used for better or worse. When we perceive a lack of consciousness and conscience, i.e., spirit and morality, that lack is more or less a result of our focus having been busy with inventing – so they think.

Nothing could be farther from truth.

To be sure, our focus is locked onto the rational perspective; both culturally and individually we are heavily distracted, in a multitude of ways, by a technically mediated reality. But this is by no means a casual effect, or a condition easily remedied by putting more emphasis on “consciousness and conscience;” regardless of what those words mean. Rather, it is the consequence of a decision made long ago: the decision to see the world from a distinct, discrete and separate human point of view. Marimba Ani writes,

Abstract categories of thought, conceptual absolutes, the syntax of universalism become the means by which they are able to achieve the illusion of transcendence. But the culture forecloses on the consequences of faith and love, while inhibiting their precondition; i.e., spirituality. The universe loses its richness as it is transformed into lifeless matter; the supernatural is reduced to the “natural,” which means to them, the merely biological or physical. Consequently time can only be lineal; space, three-dimensional; and material causality, the ultimate reality. In European religious thought the human and the divine are hopelessly split; there is no sacred ground on which they meet. In such a setting, the exaggerated material priorities of the culture are simply a result of the praxis of its participants, of the limiting realities offered by the culture. The resultant materialism further despiritualizes the culture. So the circle is joined; and European culture gives the appearance of being a self-perpetuating system. (Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, 1994, p556f)

Western science and technology, like all of Western civilization, including its philosophy and religion, are incompatible with what Alastair McIntosh summed up under “consciousness and conscience.” If we define our world in rational, material, and utilitarian terms, what is the neglected consciousness part supposed to consist of? The irrational? The immaterial? The useless?
I would very much think so. Rational, material, use-oriented spirituality, friendship, emotion etc are contradictions in terms; I also don’t see how they could improve on the unfortunate situation of having overemphasized the mechanistic worldview – especially its scientific and technological manifestations – for five centuries, now amending them with even more rationalized parts of a reality that is fundamentally immaterial. To Marimba Ani, our worldview precludes all of that; she denies that we could achieve a true morality based on European tradition:

A rationalistic ethic, accompanied by an isolating concept of self is, in the context of majority cultural [ie. non-European] philosophies, diametrically opposed to that which is moral, as “morality” – the proper attitude and behavior towards others – is based on love or identification, which necessitates a “joining with other.” This “union” is a spiritual rather than a rationalistic phenomenon and cannot be achieved by an act of “reason” (conceived as abstracted from “emotion”). It is a repudiation of the idea of “objectification.” (Yurugu, p390)

Consequently, what I receive when I point out the dilemma as described above is stonewalling and utter rejection. The “religious,” as the rational minds of our days choose to call every notion immaterial, to them, is a non-negotiable no-go area, and so they continue their search for rational solutions to and technological salvation from the self-inflicted wound of disconnectedness, which we treat with haemostatic agents while continuing to stab ourselves. Our technological gadgets are like the blood money Judas has received for turning his back on the Divine. It didn’t end well for him, and it certainly won’t for us.

[next article in the series]

Dr Marimba Ani talking about the Afrikan Worldview and Conceptualization:
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